CANBERRA, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Australian troops will be withdrawn sooner than expected, and the transition will be completed in Uruzgan Province, Afghan by the end of 2013, Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday.
Australia still has some 1550 troops in Afghanistan, most operating in Uruzgan province. But the security responsibility has been handed over progressively to the Afghan army and police. Previously, the timetable for a formal transition extended to the first quarter of 2014.
"For some time, the prime minister and I have been saying that our advice and our expectation is that transition in Uruzgan province itself would occur either by the end of 2013 or by the first quarter of 2014," he told a press conference.
"All of our advice and assessment and analysis and view is now that transition will be complete in Uruzgan province by the end of this year."
He said it is possible that Australia will provide a Special Forces contribution to the help meet the country's ongoing security needs as long as it has an "appropriate mandate" to operate in Afghanistan.
Smith added that he hopes to strike a long-term agreement with Afghanistan over issues including development assistance and trade.